4 Careers That Won’t Exist in the Future – And What You Could Do Instead
Imagine you were born a hundred years ago.
There would be a limited variety of jobs available to you; you would be much more restricted by your background and whether you were male or female, especially if you didn’t want to stop working when you got married. You might think of becoming a typist, going into domestic service or becoming a telephone switchboard operator if you were a woman. If you were a man, domestic service might also be an option for you, or you might think of door-to-door sales. However, jobs like these are now either dying out or gone completely.
The rate at which jobs are going extinct is constantly on the increase as we find cheaper and more reliable ways to carry them out without involving human labour. At the same time, new jobs are appearing – while your hundred-years-ago self would have understood the concept of marketing, for instance, social media marketing would be a baffling idea. We’re going to look at a range of jobs that exist today, but that might not exist in twenty or even ten years’ time – and what people who are suited to those jobs might want to consider doing instead.
The biggest industry that’s going to vanish soon is the driving industry. Whether that’s taxi drivers or lorry drivers, anyone who gets paid to drive things from A to B has a career lifespan of, at most, another 20 years. Having gone from technology that might struggle to tell the difference between a tree, bollard and small child, it’s probably the case that there’s now a self-driving car trundling contentedly around San Francisco as you read this.
Driving jobs are therefore ripe for automation. The most expensive component by far in driving something from place to place is the driver (which is why a journey in a Zipcar might cost you £8 per hour, the equivalent cost of about 10 minutes in a taxi). People are also dangerous: we get tired and lose concentration, or get bored and take risks. From a company’s point of view, the sooner the driver can be removed from the picture, the better; a self-driving car doesn’t need to stop for bathroom breaks or to sleep, won’t be goaded into racing a BMW at the traffic lights and needs neither wages nor training.
So what could prospective drivers do instead? Taxi drivers and lorry drivers have very different skillsets: taxi drivers need to be reasonably quick-witted, aware of their surroundings and ideally, capable of holding down a decent conversation with their passengers at the same time. The skill of driving isn’t really the main skill of the job, so there are a whole range of professions that taxi drivers might wish to consider instead.
Lorry drivers are trickier. Driving a lorry is hard, repetitive work (imagine driving in stop-start traffic with 12 gears), which can be lonely or isolated, with odd sleep patterns and dubious options for food. At the same time, delivery deadlines generate pressure, and the amount of travel calls for some desire to see the world (or at least its motorways). If we manage to establish a colony on Mars, those moving there will need to put up with long periods of travel with repetitive tasks on the journey, weird sleep patterns, bad food – and the chance to see more of the universe than any other human beings in history. The only issue with this theory is that there are over a quarter of a million lorry drivers in the UK alone, which might be too many for the initial Mars missions.
2. Legal secretaries
Some jobs are prone to automation because they can be done lock, stock and barrel by a machine. Drivers, as we’ve just seen, are one example; another, that’s happening right under our noses, is supermarket checkout workers. Currently, one or two people are still needed to monitor the self-service checkouts, but the more customers get used to the technology, the less necessary they’ll be.
Other jobs can’t be done entirely by machines, but that doesn’t mean that demand for people to fill those roles won’t fall considerably. Legal secretaries are one example of this. Their role is broad, covering some research and the preparation of some legal documents such as Wills and witness statements.
It might seem far-fetched that a computer could write something as complex as these kinds of documents, but remember that they are generally quite formulaic. Some newspaper articles are already written by a computer programme, especially those relating to sport or finance, where the types of events referred to are reasonably predictable (some stocks will go up, some down; one team will win and one will lose) and experts confidently predict that this will be the case for many more in future. Wills can – indeed must – use certain agreed-upon sets of phrases and follow certain predictable patterns. And while a human might in tiredness forget a vital clause, a computer won’t. With a bit of imagination, you can even see how a computer could have the advantage; for instance, it might run simulations of different ways the Will could be challenged to look out for any weak spots.
As with self-service checkouts at the moment, some monitoring will be required to check that the computer is producing something workable, but that changes the job from writing to proofreading, which can be done much more quickly and with fewer staff.
Being a legal secretary requires painstaking attention to detail as well as knowledge of the legal system. Other administrative work is a good place to look, especially in areas where the work is less formulaic or looking at the supervisory level. Looking more broadly at jobs that require patience, attention to detail and a wealth of complicated background knowledge, scientific research of all kinds demands all of these skills and is much less prone to automation.
3. Estate agents
It’s perhaps an exaggeration to say that there will be no estate agents in future, yet it is probable that the role of estate agent will look rather different.
Shopping for almost everything has changed hugely with the advent of the internet. Most of us don’t buy books or clothes or furniture or gadgets or almost anything else in the way we did thirty years ago. In some areas, the traditional means of buying the item has almost entirely disappeared, such as holidays or films.
Yet for a couple of items, the traditional means of purchase still holds true: houses and cars. For cars, this makes sense: it’s a fiddly mechanical object, so you want to buy it with the reassurance that someone who’s good with fiddly mechanical objects is confident enough to sell it to you with a warranty. Nor can you do a test drive over the internet. Given that a chunk of in-person interaction is necessary, it’s hard to see where the impetus for change lies. For the most part, the system works.
For houses, on the other hand, it seems implausible that the system hasn’t yet been replaced. You’re buying what will probably be the most expensive thing you’ve ever purchased, but you’re doing so with incomplete information (you can test drive a car, but you can’t spend a night in a house you’re thinking of buying), inaccurate information (the ‘cosy’ flat that’s practically a rabbit hutch; the ‘lively’ neighbourhood that has sirens at 3am), from people with a culture of aggressive upselling – and you’ll pay fees of thousands in order to do it. At the moment, there’s no real alternative, and it’s not a buyers’ market. But given the rise of peer-to-peer transactions in areas from lending to B&Bs, it surely can’t be long before house sales are revolutionised. Estate agents are needed to write an attractive description, take good photos and handle the negotiation – but these are all things that the average eBay user already knows how to do. Airbnb proved that with the right reassurances, we’re happy to let strangers into our houses, so the number of impediments to circumventing estate agents is shrinking.
Estate agents are salespeople, but they also need to assess their clients and work out what’s right for them. It’s a job that requires emotional intelligence. It’s heavily commission-based, so rewards go-getters. For these reasons, something that anyone thinking of becoming an estate agent might like to look at instead is recruitment. It’s not matching people to houses, but instead matching people to jobs – but with the same sensitivity to needs and even to finances. That, too, is commission-based. Job recruitment requires working out what’s right for the company and the applicant even if they haven’t quite worked it out for themselves; a high-level skill that isn’t going to be automated any time soon. People can already apply for jobs directly themselves, but still applicants and companies turn to recruitment agencies for that extra bit of specialist expertise – so it should be future-proof as well.
There are some complaints that are much older than you might think. One is that fashion is encouraging women to endanger their health. There’s an oft-quoted statistic that 20 years ago, the average fashion model weighed 8% less than the average woman, whereas now it’s 23% less. When Samuel Richardson wrote Pamela in 1740, he was criticised for his description of Pamela’s waist as so narrow that the hero could span it with his hands. We have prized extreme body shapes for a long time, and worried over them for just as long.
Fashion designers are going to some length to utilise extreme body shapes in displaying their clothes, too. Methods include employing very thin or very young models, or the growing use of men and boys to model women’s clothes. The next logical step would seem to be to dispense with human models altogether, and turn to androids.
An android is a type of robot that is intended to look like a human. There are no androids that could fulfill this role adequately yet. Currently, androids are still more creepy than anything else, and few can walk with anything approaching elegance. However, technology is developing rapidly, and there are other pressures to encourage it. The nation leading the world in android technology is Japan, where there’s a struggle to find people to fill much-needed roles in old people’s homes – something that is becoming ever more pressing as the aged population grows. Robots are an option for this, but there’s a lot of work going into developing a genuinely realistic android that could work alongside human employees and provide a reassuring presence as well as fulfilling practical needs.
When this technology exists, it doesn’t seem likely that the world of fashion will hold on to its human models for long. Androids can be any shape you like, you’ll never need their parents’ permission to sign them to your agency, there’s no limit on the hours they can work and they’re not going to sue either. Why continue with the fraught and complicated world of humans? There’s a precedent for this: a ‘mannequin’ used to be a job title, used for women who modelled clothes in high-end fashion shops. A plastic doll might not model clothes as nicely, but it’s cheaper and less complicated than employing someone, so human mannequins disappeared.
Modelling isn’t a realistic career for most people, so losing it as an option won’t change many people’s career paths. One area prospective fashion models might wish to consider is becoming artists’ models instead; while fashion loves artificiality, artists aren’t likely to favour androids any time soon.
One final thought to consider: as many jobs disappear due to automation and other pressures, others will appear. In the 1950s and 60s, mass-produced plastic objects were the height of fashion, and hand-worked items were seen as outdated and ugly. Now that trend has reversed, and we would value – say – a hand-carved wooden bowl much more than its plastic equivalent. The rise of machine automation is likely to produce a new boom in artisan production; if you can 3D-print anything you want at the touch of a button, something created by hand by another human takes on a whole new value. We’re entering the age of the robots, but we might well be entering the golden age of artists too.
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